From the Field to the Classroom: The Impact of Bullying on Student Athletes

You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Team Bullies

For generations, bullying has been a common element of most people’s experiences growing up. Whether for a day or many years, for one reason or another, children and teenagers have been picked on in their communities and throughout elementary, middle, or high school. In the past few years, bullying has become an important topic in education and sports, with numerous initiatives emerging in schools and communities to combat bullying of all types ― both in person and online. Despite these efforts, the fact is that bullying still goes on and is something that could affect your sporting experience, either in your school or club team.

It is clear that young people who have been bullied experience psychological and sometimes even physical trauma, which can lead to many avoidable and regrettable outcomes. Further, bullying can be a significant factor in athletes missing practice sessions, switching teams, or dropping out of their sport altogether because such treatment makes them feel uncomfortable in that environment.

Why do bullies do it?

Issues with self-confidence and self-esteem have usually been identified as the roots of bullying. Bullies seek to make another person feel inferior to try to feel better about themselves, and they use any reason they can find to pick on another person. In sporting circles, this might mean targeting someone new to a team who is not as good as the other players or is particularly poor at one aspect of the game. Even someone who has just joined the team and displays exceptional skill and talent can become the victim of jealousy from other players who feel threatened.

Bullying can take several different forms. It can be physical threats, actions, exclusion, or verbal abuse, such as name-calling and extreme teasing. Nowadays, bullying never ends because it can follow victims home. Social media venues, which make communication much more straightforward, are regularly used to harass victims day and night.

Bullying in girls’ sports

Girls’ sports can be fierce regarding bullying because the perpetrators target relationships. Relationships and the social nature of sports are essential factors in the lives of teenage girls, who have been known to drop out at very high rates as their friends also leave sports.

While boys are more likely to use physical bullying, whether in the locker rooms or by being extra physical with the player they are picking on during practice, girls will isolate a peer, excluding their target from friendship circles that form within teams and from social events. This exclusion from social relationships has a natural effect on the comfort and performance of their targets, who may fall victim to anxiety and depression and begin to view themselves negatively.

Bullying in these instances might also include gossiping and spreading rumors about the person, which can be extremely hurtful to the victims, especially as these rumors are usually very nasty attacks that can ruin their reputations amongst peers.

Adult bullies

Most of the focus on bullying is on peer-to-peer bullying between teammates; however, the fact is that coaches and other team officials, or even other parents, can engage in bullying behavior. In the case of coaches, this can include teasing, humiliating or intimidating players through what they say and how they speak to them. At the same time, any of these adults can be guilty of bullying if they actively exclude an athlete from team events or pick on a specific athlete with negative attention during practice or games.

What to do

Bullying is a form of anti-social behavior that is unacceptable and should not be encouraged. It is essential to treat people with respect and concern, no matter what differences you may have with them. If you are a victim of bullying on your team, it is essential to stop it before it is too late.

This means standing up for yourself, but it also means getting adults involved. The first person should be your coach. If they are good at their job and serious about their role as the adult responsible for the welfare of all the players on the team, they should immediately take action to ensure that the behavior stops. Your parents must also be made aware of the situation, as they can provide advice and support.

You may not be the victim of bullying in your team, but it is just as vital to stopping it if you see it happening to someone else. It is essential to let the teammate who is being bullied know that they have some support and someone to look out for them. Again, informing your coach and other adults will also be necessary to ensure that the bullying stops.